Today National Park Service official announced that the invasion of quagga mussels into Lake Powell has proved to be much more dire than originally thought. This alien species threatens to displace the natives and upset the natural ecological balance.
Quagga mussels (Dreissena rostriformis bugensis) are originally from the drainage of the Dneiper River in Ukraine. For this reasons quagga mussels are considered an “alien species” in the United States. They were first observed in the Great Lakes in September of 1989. Though no one can say for certain, it is most likely that quagga mussels arrived to the USA in ballast water from trans-Atlantic ships.
Quagga mussels are much like zebra mussels in that they are fresh-water filter feeders. While this may seem non-threatening, what has people worried is the speed and magnitude at which they reproduce. Quagga mussels can quickly multiply and consume the lion’s share of phytoplankton in a body of water. This creates competition for native filter feeders and potentially can alter food webs. In addition quagga mussels can clog water intake pipes, damage boats, power plants, and harbors.
Park official were alarmed this February when dropping water levels revealed that Lake Powell was severely infested with this alien species. Roughly 1,300 adult quagga mussels were observed. This was particularly distressing because only last summer experts were optimistic that the lake could be kept free of such an infestation.
In an effort to combat the problem the park official recruited divers to manually remove the quagga mussels. Over the course of four days they removed 235 mussels. These mussels were all in different stages of development. The mussels had attached to the Glen Canyon Dam, the canyon walls, boats, and other underwater structures. On a positive note no major colonies of quagga mussels were found.
In light of this recent infestation, it is likely that containment plans will go into effect and rules will be more strictly enforced. These efforts will include regular inspections, decontamination, and quarantine of incoming boats if deemed necessary. Perhaps most importantly efforts to educate the public about the dangers of this alien species and how to prevent its spread will also be promoted.
The news of the quagga mussel invasion has caused quite a stir in the state of Utah. It is estimated that a severe infestation of quagga mussels in the extensive systems of dams and canals would cost the state 15 million dollars annually. The Utah State Legislature has approved 1.35 million dollars for high-pressure hot water cleaning stations at well-trafficked boating centers. In addition a new bill called SB212 or the “Invasive Species Amendments” is currently up for consideration in the current legislative session. The bill proposes stricter penalties for boaters that fail to register at major boating checkpoints.
Individuals can help prevent the spread of quagga mussels by carefully inspecting and decontaminating any boats or other aquatic gear. Plants, animals, and mud can all be removed with high pressure and/or tap water. Boats should be drained, cleaned, and dry before transporting to another body of water. There are also professional services for boat decontamination.
Though it is unfortunate to find such a large infestation of quagga mussels, the early alarm means that there is still time to act. With some hard work and the maintaining of a vigilant watch, it is possible that Lake Powell may remain free or virtually free of this alien species.
By Sarah Takushi